Podcast: Massive, Systematic, Proven beyond Doubt
President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. In the run-up to elections in the summer of 2020, the Lukashenko regime sought to eliminate political competition to through disqualification, intimidation, and imprisonment. Election Day proper featured widespread allegations of fraud. Many countries, including the United States, rejected the election’s outcome as illegitimate and refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus. The months since the election have seen an unrelenting crackdown by Belarusian authorities on peaceful protests, civil society, and the media. As a participating State in the OSCE, Belarus is party to a number of commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to free and fair elections and the right to peaceful assembly. In response to the apparent violation of these rights, 17 other OSCE states invoked one of the key human rights tools at their disposal: the Moscow Mechanism, a procedure that allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission tasked with producing a report on a specific human rights concern and recommendations on how to resolve it. In this episode, Professor Wolfgang Benedek, the rapporteur appointed to investigate the crisis in Belarus, discusses his findings that human rights abuses are "massive and systematic, and proven beyond doubt" and his recommendations to address the violations. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 14 | Massive, Systematic, Proven beyond Doubt: Human Rights Violations in Belarus Exposed by the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism
Podcast: In the Beginning
In the inaugural episode of "Helsinki on the Hill," the Helsinki Commission's first staff director, Spencer Oliver, shares how the Helsinki Commission evolved from its beginnings in the 1970s to become an organization that reflects the overarching commitment of the United States to security and cooperation in Europe, and that has played a vital role in introducing and promoting the concept of human rights as an element in U.S. foreign policy decision-making globally. He also shares details about the role he played in the creation of today's OSCE, and his service as the first secretary general of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly from 1992 to 2015. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 1: In the Beginning | Helsinki on the Hill
Podcast: Parliamentary Diplomacy in Action
Through participation in parliamentary assemblies, national legislators can wield global influence on issues ranging from counterterrorism to climate change. Roberto Montella, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Ruxandra Popa, Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, peel back the curtain on activities of their institutions and underscore the value of parliamentary diplomacy in promoting security, prosperity, and human rights worldwide. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 9 | Parliamentary Diplomacy in Action
Podcast: Disappeared in Turkmenistan
In Turkmenistan, detainees serving long-term prison sentences often literally “disappear” into the notorious Ovadan Depe prison outside of Ashgabat. Disappeared prisoners have no access to medical care or legal assistance; no information is provided to their families about their well-being. Current estimates indicate that more than 120 individuals are currently disappeared in Ovadan Depe, including Turkmenistan’s former foreign minister and former ambassador to the OSCE Batyr Berdiev, who disappeared into the Turkmen prison system in 2003. Kate Watters of the Prove They Are Alive! Campaign joins Helsinki Commission Senior Policy Advisor Janice Helwig to discuss the tragedy of those who have been disappeared, as well as the current situation in Turkmenistan and the steps that are being taken to encourage the Government of Turkmenistan to halt the practice and live up to its international commitments to human rights. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 7 | Disappeared in Turkmenistan
Podcast: Welcome to Observe
Election observation is a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Each OSCE participating State—including the United States—pledges to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. The United States plays an active role in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, veteran election observer Orest Deychakiwsky, former director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and current OSCE PA member Michael Link, and Deputy Secretary of the State of Connecticut Scott Bates share insights on the origins and value of OSCE election observation, along with the process of election observation from the OSCE and state perspective. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 13 | Welcome to Observe: OSCE Election Observation and the United States
Podcast: Communities at Risk
Reports from nearly every corner of the OSCE region suggest that minority groups and vulnerable populations have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and sometimes by the policies enacted by governments to address it. This extended episode of "Helsinki on the Hill" takes an in-depth look at the pandemic’s impact on minority groups and vulnerable populations, and the role of governments in addressing that impact. Margaret Huang, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Karen Taylor, chair of the European Network Against Racism, share insight about the reality on the ground for minority communities, including African Americans, who are suffering disproportionately from both the pandemic and systemic discrimination. Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, joins the discussion to offer recommendations on meeting the needs of national minorities and marginalized communities in the new world of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 11 | Communities at Risk: The Impact of COVID-19 on the OSCE’s Most Vulnerable Populations
Justice at Home
Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
OSCE Election Observation
In 1990, OSCE participating States pledged to hold free and fair elections and to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. Elections observation has since been recognized as one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. In 2020 alone, the OSCE has been invited to observe elections in nearly 20 OSCE participating States (Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Monogolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and the United States).* History of OSCE Election Observation All OSCE participating States have committed to holding democratic elections that meet the same basic standards: universal access, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and privacy in voter submission. Because violations of these commitments can endanger stability in the OSCE region, as well as within an individual country, OSCE nations also agreed to open their elections to observers from other participating countries. To encourage compliance and confidence in the results of the observation missions, countries agreed to observe elections together under the OSCE umbrella. Since the 1990s, OSCE election observers have been present at more than 300 elections throughout the OSCE region. While some OSCE countries benefit from foreign observation more than others – especially those that formerly had one-party communist systems and little experience with democracy – the OSCE also observes elections in more established and stable democracies, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even these countries can benefit from consideration of the objective conclusions of those with an outside, comparative perspective. Perhaps more important, observation across the OSCE region removes any sense of stigmatization associated with the repeated hosting of election observation missions as well as any argument against hosting by those political leaders in some countries who continue to resist holding even reasonably free and fair elections. As one of the original 35 members of the OSCE, the United States has participated actively in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Election Observation Methodology ODIHR's election monitoring methodology takes account of the situation before, during, and after an election. All aspects of the electoral process are considered, to include a review of the legal framework; the performance of elections officials; the conduct of campaigns; the media environment and equitable media access; the complaints and appeals process; voting, counting, and tabulation; and the announcement of results. Recently, ODIHR has further expanded its methodology to explore the participation of women and national minorities. Election Observers OSCE election observation missions often are undertaken jointly by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). A typical election observation mission comprises around 12 core team members, as well as several dozen long-term observers and several hundred short-term observers. The missions, which combine strong technical expertise and sound political judgement, include ODIHR officials, professional analysts, parliamentarians, and others on loan from OSCE member countries. To ensure that no single country’s point of view is overrepresented, the OSCE limits the number of observers from any one country. No matter where they are from, observers commit to an election observation code of conduct, which limits their role to observing and reporting. Observers have no authority to instruct, assist, or interfere in the voting, counting, tabulation, or other aspects of the electoral process. Election Observation, Reporting, and Recommendations Ahead of the elections, observers receive briefings from the host government, political parties, civil society, and media representatives. Long-term observers also follow pre-election activities including candidate and voter registration, political campaigns, and media coverage. On Election Day, two-person teams of short-term observers fan out across the country to observe the conduct of the election, including opening of polling stations; checking whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed; the counting of ballots; the handling of spoiled or unused ballots; and the transmission of polling station results. Observers monitor how voters are processed, the accuracy of voter registries, and whether voters are able to vote in secret and in an environment that is free from intimidation. After the elections, long-term observers note how electoral complaints and appeals are handled. The OSCE election observation mission publishes preliminary findings immediately after the elections, with a final comprehensive report issued a few weeks later. The final report includes in-depth analysis of the election’s political context and legislative framework; election administration; voter and candidate registration; the election campaign; the media; participation of women and national minorities; and the voting, counting, and tabulation processes. Impact The OSCE methodology represents the global standard for quality election observation. By analyzing election-related laws and systems, as well as the effectiveness of their implementation, election observation missions help document whether elections in OSCE countries are free and fair for voters and candidates alike. Its expertise has been shared with other regional organizations, and the OSCE has contributed to observation efforts outside the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission Contribution The U.S. Helsinki Commission was the first to propose concrete commitments regarding free and fair elections more than a year before they were adopted by the OSCE in June 1990. By that time, Commissioners and staff had already observed the conduct of the first multi-party elections in seven East and Central European countries transitioning from one-party communist states to functioning democracies. As the OSCE developed its institutional capacities in the mid-1990s, the Commission joined the efforts of an increasing number of observer teams from across the OSCE region, which evolved into the well-planned, professional election observation missions of today. Commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections since 1990. More broadly speaking, the United States support OSCE observation efforts, to include deployment of civilian, parliamentary, and diplomatic observers abroad, but also supporting OSCE’s observation of domestic elections, with a focus on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. Learn More Elections: OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly * Following Needs Assessment Missions designed to assess the situation and determine the scale of a potential observation activity in a particular country, election observation was deemed unnecessary in some cases.
Decoding the OSCE
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organization with 57 participating States representing more than a billion people. Its origins trace back to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which contains a broad range of measures focused on politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects designed to enhance comprehensive security and cooperation in the region, and the decades of multilateral diplomacy that followed. The OSCE operates coordinated efforts, adapted to the needs of each participating State, to protect democracy, promote peace, and manage conflict. The organization focuses on creating sustainable change through shared values, and decisions are taken by consensus. Learn more about the OSCE’s operations and institutions below. The Helsinki Process and the OSCE: On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 OSCE participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Helsinki Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. The Security Dimension The Economic Dimension The Human Dimension Four Decades of the Helsinki Process: The gatherings following the Final Act became known as the Helsinki Process. The process became a diplomatic front line in the Cold War and a cost-effective diplomatic tool to respond to the new challenges facing Europe during the post-Cold War era. Since its inception over forty years ago, the Helsinki Process and the OSCE continue to provide added value to multilateral efforts enhancing security and cooperation in Europe. OSCE Institutions, Structures, and Meetings: The OSCE sets standards in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. The OSCE also undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The Consensus Rule: The OSCE operates using a consensus decision-making process. Consensus fosters ownership of decisions by all OSCE participating States, enables them to protect key national priorities, and creates an important incentive for countries to participate in the OSCE. It also strengthens the politically binding nature of OSCE commitments. The Moscow Mechanism: The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region. OSCE Election Observation: Election observation is one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Parliamentary Diplomacy of the OSCE: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) offers opportunities for engagement among parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. The OSCE PA debates current issues related to OSCE commitments; develops and promotes tools to prevent and resolve conflicts; supports democratic development in participating States; and encourages national governments to take full advantage of OSCE capabilities. Non-Governmental Participation in the OSCE: One of the advantages of the OSCE is that it is the only international organization in which NGOs are allowed to participate in human dimension meetings on an equal basis with participating States. NGOs—no matter how small—can raise their concerns directly with governments.
By H. Knox Thames
The second Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination convened in Brussels, Belgium, September 13-14, 2004. Along with the first conference held last fall in Vienna, the two meetings were part of broad efforts by OSCE participating States to address concerns about intolerance and anti-Semitism.
Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, led the United States Delegation. Other U.S. delegates included Dr. Maha Hadi Hussain, University of Michigan; Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Larry Thompson, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General; Robert L. Woodson, President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE.
Conference participants included 47 OSCE participating States, five Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, and many non-governmental organizations representing a range of interests. His Royal Highness Prince Filip of Belgium, His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, and His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I addressed the opening session of the conference. United States Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also spoke at the opening session in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
The Brussels Conference consisted of four plenary sessions and four workshops. Considering the broad themes of the conference, the plenary sessions focused on a variety of issues related to intolerance: governmental actions in law enforcement and promoting tolerance; efforts to combat discrimination against legal migrant workers; and efforts to promote tolerance through education and the media. The workshop topics were equally diverse, addressing discriminatory government policies affecting religious freedoms, promotion of tolerance toward Muslims, and combating discrimination based on color. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also reported on its strategy and activities relating to tolerance.
Members of the U.S. Delegation participated fully in all aspects of the conference, giving introductory statements at plenary sessions and actively engaging in discussions regarding various forms of discrimination.
In the first session, “Legislative and Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement,” U.S. Head of Delegation, Secretary Jackson noted that “abuses prompted by disregard for the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination occur in countries across the globe. Some come in the form of individual acts of racism that harm only small numbers of people at a time. Others come in the form of national policies that discriminate against certain segments of society. All pose a challenge that all countries must confront directly in order to guarantee the freedom, democracy, and prosperity that we hold dear.”
During the workshop entitled “Facilitating Freedom of Religion and Belief through Transparent and Non-Discriminatory Laws, Regulations, Policies and Procedures,” Cardinal Keeler stressed that participating States must “work to implement non-discriminatory laws, avoiding those that limit the ability of groups to operate equally. Registration systems should not create unfair tiered systems offering unique benefits and privileges to some and lesser legal status to others, or establish numerical thresholds almost impossible to meet.”
Dr. Hussain’s contribution to the workshop on “Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination toward Muslims” addressed a number of issues, also singling out specific examples of governmental discrimination against Muslims. “While the threat of terrorism is real and it can never be condoned, the negative attention stigmatizes communities and fosters xenophobia against minorities—be they Muslims, Arabs or others,” said Hussain. “It also can result in violation of individual privacy and abuse of police powers. It is hard to justify these actions, particularly in democratic states where human and minority rights are meant to be protected.”
In the closing session, Secretary Jackson urged OSCE participating States and conference participants to combat all forms of discrimination, especially those based on skin color. He spoke from his own experiences growing up in the southern United States in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson noted how far the United States has traveled toward tolerance. He observed, however, that work within the United States is not finished.
“That is why we gathered here this week to share our experiences and learn all we can from one another … to discuss the successes we have achieved in our respective countries … and to recommit ourselves to resolving the challenges that remain,” Secretary Jackson said. “We know there is much work ahead of us, but as nations committed to promoting tolerance and diversity, we must focus the combined and concerted efforts of government, civil society, and individuals in the pursuit of positive change.”
The U.S. Delegation proposed 13 recommendations for consideration in future efforts to address issues of discrimination and intolerance, which included:
Leaders of participating States should speak out and take resolute action against attacks and crimes directed at individuals based on race, color, religion, political or other opinion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Participating States without anti-discrimination laws should enact such legislation at the earliest opportunity. Those states with anti-discrimination laws should make strengthening such legislation a top priority. All states may consult ODIHR on best practices.
Participating States should reach out to minority communities and establish procedures for the reporting of possible bias-motivated crimes and violations of anti-discrimination laws. Authorities should ensure the rapid and effective investigation and prosecution of such crimes.
Participating States, OSCE Institutions, and NGOs should cooperate in developing training programs for law enforcement and justice officials on legislation relating to hate crimes and its enforcement.
Participating States should affirmatively declare that institutionalized discrimination against religious communities is unacceptable and ensure that their legal systems foster equality, not subordination, of religious groups. Registration laws, policies, and procedures should be non-discriminatory, neutral and transparent and should not use overly burdensome numerical or temporal thresholds.
The OSCE should consider meetings on the promotion of tolerance and nondiscrimination toward Muslims.
The conference concluded in similar fashion to the Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism, with the reading of a declaration by OSCE Chair-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy. The “Brussels Declaration” condemned “without reserve all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism and other acts of intolerance and discrimination, including against Muslims” and organizations and individuals that promote “hatred or acts of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, or related intolerance, including against Muslims, and anti-Semitism.” In parallel to the Berlin Declaration, the Brussels Declaration also declared “unambiguously that international developments or political issues never justify racism, xenophobia or discrimination,” while also rejecting the “identification of terrorism and extremism with any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality or race.”
Following the Berlin precedent, the Brussels Declaration incorporated a previously agreed Permanent Council decision setting forth actions participating States and ODIHR should undertake. Reinforcing the PC decision for Berlin, participating States again agreed to “collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about hate crimes” and to forward that information to ODIHR periodically, and directed ODIHR to work with international organizations in this endeavor and to report their findings to the Permanent Council. States decided to “take steps to combat acts of discrimination and violence” against Muslims, migrants and migrant workers, and to consider “undertaking activities to raise public awareness of the enriching contribution of migrants and migrant workers to society.” In addition, governments committed to “consider establishing training programmes for law enforcement and judicial officials on legislation and enforcement of legislation relating to hate crimes.”
The Brussels Declaration and statements given at the conference are available at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/tolerance2004.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.